An Inland legislator hopes to give commercial solar energy projects a boost by getting nesting birds out of the way.
The problem is that red-tailed hawks and other birds like to build nests and raise their young high up on utility poles or towers. Under current regulations, workers can’t disturb nesting birds when they are upgrading or installing new lines, a situation that has delayed some efforts to link solar and wind energy projects to the power grid.
Nests built by five pairs of red-tailed hawks on power poles near the Nevada border last year forced Southern California Edison crews to stop work within 400 feet of the nests.
The crews were upgrading power lines needed for BrightSource Energy’s 5.6-square-mile solar project under construction in northeastern San Bernardino County. Work near the nests stopped for as long as five months, until the hawks and their progeny moved on.
With this year’s nesting season approaching, Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-Rialto, has introduced a bill that would make life easier for alternative-energy developers. The bill would allow energy companies to obtain state permits to move – or “take” – birds, nests or eggs that are in the way of transmission line projects “to help achieve the state’s renewable energy goals.”
“Take,” in wildlife regulation-speak, means kill, injure or harass.
“The goal is not to hurt the birds,” said Shannon McKinley, Brown’s legislative director. “The goal is to move the birds safely so the projects can continue.”
Southern California Edison officials had approached Brown to sponsor bill, and Brown’s office has been working with the company on the bill, McKinley said. The current version is a placeholder that is expected to be clarified and rewritten before hearings are held, she added.
Edison provided Brown with a $1,500 campaign donation on Dec. 31, two months after she was elected to the Assembly, according to secretary of state records. McKinley said she did not have any information about the donation, and Brown was traveling and unavailable for comment.
Edison officials could not be reached for comment on the legislation.
Raptors frequently nest in power transmission towers. In eastern Riverside County, Edison crews sometimes put beach balls in high spots to discourage the birds from building nests, said David Briery, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, said she doubts that nests can be moved without harming birds. Once a nest is displaced, most birds would abandon the chicks or eggs, she said, adding that she has never heard of a raptor raising young in a nest that had been moved.
The proposed state legislation may not be legally sound, Anderson said. Red-tailed hawks and several other species of migratory birds are protected by federal law.
Utility companies may have another problem, too. Hawks have powerful, sharp claws and beaks and are well known for attacking anyone who tries to disturb or get close to their nests, Anderson said.
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